Located in Southeast Asia, Laos is the country around seven million people call home. Despite the multitude of people that reside in Laos, the country’s healthcare system does not sufficiently support all those who live there. As a nation that was once colonized by France, Laos was left in a state of dependency towards wealthier countries, as colonization and poverty oftentimes go hand in hand.

Since Laos is one of the poorest countries in Asia, healthcare is a struggle that many have to endure on top of other poor living conditions. Insufficient government funding affects how low spending on healthcare is in Laos. Since public spending towards healthcare is low, people have to rely on out-of-pocket options and external financing rather than having comprehensive healthcare covered by the government. Health insurance in Laos currently only covers 20% of citizens, with less than 15% of the nation’s poor having access to health insurance. With basic necessities like food and shelter existing as one’s biggest priority, healthcare becomes an afterthought for those who cannot afford it.

Recent Advancements in Healthcare

In 2016, domestic allocation for healthcare was 5.9% which is lower than the goal of 9% of general government spending. Despite the lack of funding for Laos’ healthcare system, there have been advancements made in more recent years. According to the World Health Organization, “over the past 10 years, the health of the Laotian population improved significantly,” which has allowed the life expectancy at birth to reach 66 years in 2015.

One effective way to measure the health of a country like Laos is by looking at the mortality and life-expectancy rates. The mortality and life-expectancy rates have decreased and risen respectively due to the reported vaccination coverage. In the 2000s, 82.5 infant deaths per 1000 live births and 5.46 maternal deaths per 1000 live births were reported. Since then, the MMR, or maternal mortality ratio, has seen a reduction by more than 75%, meaning both mother and child death rates have improved. Laos was given praise for their tremendous reduction of maternal mortality rates, as Laos was the “third fastest country…between 2000 and 2013” to achieve the feat.

Laotian Health Policies

Adding policies to Laos’ healthcare system has been beneficial in the past years. A major policy implemented in 2005 called the Law on Health Care allowed for Laos to significantly improve the country’s healthcare system. This policy guarantees that all citizens of Laos be given equitable and quality health care so that everyone can “effectively contribute to the protection and development of the nation.” Financially struggling health patients are awarded free medical care if they have been certified “with the regulations of the relevant organization.” This is a step forward for Laotian healthcare, as those who are struggling the most are able to have healthcare guaranteed and one less financial obstacle to worry about.

Similarly, Laos has also implemented different healthcare programs for different income groups, to increase coverage for a broader cross-section of individuals. The State Authority for Social Security is healthcare used for civil servants, the Social Security Office is for those who are employees of state and private enterprises, the Community-based Health Insurance is for those who are informal-sector workers, and lastly, the Health Equity Funds is for the impoverished and provides maternal and child health services at no cost.

Another major policy that made advancement in Laos is the 2008 National Nutrition Policy. This healthcare policy aims to help with “the reduction of malnutrition among all ethnic groups and decreasing associated…mortality risks.” The most vulnerable groups such as women and children have a better fighting chance at surviving during childbirth. Lao children “are exclusively breastfed from 0-5 months,” which means that establishing the National Nutrition Policy was a crucial development, as babies get their nutrition from mothers and mothers need nutrition to nourish their young ones. By enabling and ensuring a baseline nutrition level be met in Laos, the country can take a step forward in healthcare and continue to promote healthy habits as a whole.

-Karina Wong

Photo: Pixabay

Like Cambodia and Vietnam, the country of Laos is located in Southeast Asia. Being a landlocked country means that much of its water resources come from the Mekong River. Water sanitation has been an issue in the past, and now widespread action is being taken. There are many organizations that are coming together to bring clean, usable water throughout Laos. Here are 10 facts about water sanitation in Laos.

10 Facts About Water Sanitation in Laos

  1. The Creation of WASH FIT: In 2017, The World Health Organization partnered with UNICEF to create WASH FIT, which stands for “Water and Sanitation for Health Facility Improvement Tool.” Participants involved go into different hospitals to hold training programs and assess the current sanitation situation. The program provides information about safe water collection, along with supplies to build sanitation facilities. Through the WASH FIT program, sanitation in many Laos health centers and hospitals has increased by more than 50%. This has created a safer environment for both staff and patients.
  2. Increase in Safe Drinking Water: As of 2019, only 48% of schools in Laos had access to clean water. As more organizations – such as Abundant Water and Mercy Relief – continue to help better sanitation in Laos, the Lao PDR plan to keep increasing the percentage of individuals who have access to clean water.
  3. ICRC Brings Water to Urban Villages: Finding clean water and bringing it back to homes often requires strenuous work and a long trek. Of those traveling to get water, 79% are women. Many of the water sources that are used contain water-borne diseases, making much of the water in Laos dangerous to consume. The humanitarian group International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) aids these women by drilling boreholes, bringing clean water closer to homes.
  4. Laos is Home to Third Largest River in Asia: Though the water from the Mekong River is not suitable for drinking, it is the only source of water for many of the surrounding villages. Because of this, many people suffer from water-borne diseases, such as schistosomiasis. To decrease cases of schistosomiasis, The World Health Organization and The Ministry of Health are working together to bring clean water and sanitation facilities to villages. This will limit the need for water from the Mekong River.
  5. Hanwha Launches Project to Clean Mekong River: Like many rivers globally, the Mekong River contains an enormous amount of harmful pollutants. The Hanwha group in Vietnam started a campaign called Clean Up Mekong. They use solar-powered boats clean up trash as they sail down the river. Though the cleanup started in Vietnam, it will directly affect many places. The river flows not only through Vietnam and Laos, but much of Asia including Cambodia and China.
  6. Clay Water Filters are Used to Produce Clean Drinking Water: Thanks to an Australian organization called Abundant Water, clay water filters have been created and distributed to 12 different villages. These filters are used to produce clean drinking water. The organization then taught a five-week training program to local potters on how to create clay filters of their own. As a result of Abundant Water’s work, over 22,000 people have accessed safe drinking water.
  7. Increase in Access to Sanitation Facilities: In more rural areas of Laos, individuals may not have access to sanitation facilities, causing open defecation to be a major concern. The open defecation rate is the second-highest in the area. This has caused an increase in the spread of harmful diseases. Lao PDR and the World Bank have been working to supply rural areas with facilities to reduce open defecation. As of 2015, there is a 28% increase in the availability of sanitation facilities in urban areas and 39% in rural areas.
  8. Further Water Availability for Schools: Schools have suffered firsthand from the lack of water. Mercy Relief arrived in 2012 to install water filtration systems for schools throughout Laos. Through this work, more children have access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities now. They also use the water to start gardens to grow fruits and vegetables for the children and school staff to take home or sell at local markets.
  9. More Than 40 Water-Gravity System Installations: World Vision International has aided in the effort to build water-gravity systems that bring fresh water to rural villages. As of 2014, World Vision has supplied local villages with 46 water-gravity systems to help improve sanitation in Laos and lower the spread of harmful diseases.
  10. Start of Water Management Committees in Rural Village: An organization called Plan International has gone into northern Laos, bringing water tanks, pipelines and other water supplies. The organization has also started water management committees that are in charge of maintaining the water facilities. By showcasing the great impact water management committees have had on this particular community, the hope is that companies assist as other villages carry out similar plans.

Though there is still a long way to go, progress has been made. Companies and organizations around the world are working together to improve water sanitation in Laos.

– Olivia Eaker
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Laos
The Lao People’s Democratic Republic, or Laos, is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia. One of the fastest-growing economies in the world, the country has halved its poverty rate in the past 20 years. This is an impressive feat for the import-heavy country given that less than 5% of its land is suitable for agriculture. Poverty in Laos, however, remains a formidable issue. Laos faces a significant wealth gap between its capital Vientiane and poorer rural areas. Foreign aid and international efforts strive to reduce poverty in Laos.

The World Bank and the Poverty Reduction Fund

Created in 2002, the Poverty Reduction Fund (PRF) linked Laos to the international community through the World Bank, aiming to reduce poverty in Laos. The goals of the PRF have progressed over time, reducing poverty at a grassroots level and helping the Laotian poor achieve self-sustainability.

PRF has positively impacted more than 10,000 Laotian women and their families – self-help groups in different villages provide microloans, monthly household income has increased exponentially over the years and nutrition centers, roads and schools are constantly improving and serving Laotian villagers.

In December 2019, the World Bank approved additional funding of $22.5 million as a soft loan to Laos. This loan supports the Laotian government’s National Nutrition Strategy, which seeks to improve rural conditions by developing agricultural infrastructure.

The Asian Development Bank

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) grants loans, technical assistance and equity investments to promote development in Asian countries. The ADB has assisted poverty-reduction operations in Laos since 1968 and still finances assistance to the country. As of 2019, it has provided Laos with a total of $2.91 billion.

The ADB generally focuses on sustainable development in Laos but also funds education to achieve social and economic development. Because of its early involvement in Laos, the ADB’s efforts have yielded impressive results, having connected more than 20,000 households to electricity and water and providing education facilities to more than 100,000 Laotian students.

The United Nations Development Program’s Brand Laos Initiative

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) fights global poverty, seeking sustainable development and global equality. The UNDP has several ongoing projects in Laos supporting gender parity and government transparency. One notable initiative is a project it calls Brand Laos – a mission fighting for a unique Laotian brand and niche.

Brand Laos researches Laotian economic niches in order to create a unique marketable perspective for the country, finding viable products for farmers, producers and service providers. This economically benefits Laos, raising income for agricultural workers and producers. A Laotian niche could reduce poverty while bringing spurring development.

In particular, these types of projects seek high-quality products for international markets where consumers pay extra for ethically produced foreign products. Brand Laos has looked into products and services such as tea, silk-based clothing and ecotourism.

Conditions in rural Laotian households have improved drastically in recent decades, thanks to these international efforts. The Laotian national poverty rate was 46% in 1992 and fell to 23% in 2015. Additionally, households have greater access to electricity, water and even extraneous symbols of development like smartphones. With continued work, the poverty rate in Laos should continue to go down.

Maggie Sun
Photo: Flickr

Health Policy Evolution in LaosMany countries throughout Southeast Asia face increased health risks due to the propagation of COVID-19. Healthcare policy and infrastructure in Laos has been developing over the past few decades. Laos is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world with more than 49 ethnic groups. It includes variegated customs, beliefs and health-related behaviors. The government’s response to health issues in the past 20 years has greatly improved child mortality, maternal mortality and nutrition throughout the country. These five facts about health policy evolution in Laos are integral to understanding the country’s past infrastructure development and how it is currently responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

5 Facts About Health Policy Evolution in Laos

  1. The National Commission for Mothers and Children (NCMC) was established as a government agency in Laos during 1999. NCMC works with local groups in Laos to proactively combat violence against women and children. The agency’s work also includes researching the current state of the healthcare system and proposing policies towards gender equality.
  2. The National Growth and Poverty Eradication Strategy (NGPES) is the foundation for national poverty reduction and healthcare sector growth. Implemented in 2004, this policy provides background for enabling growth in sectors like education, infrastructure and agriculture. As Laos continues on its course to exit the Least Developed Country status, the government focuses on solving both larger scale and local issues to eradicate poverty. Between 1997 and 2015, due in part to the NGPES, Laos’ poverty rate declined from 40% to 23%.
  3. The Laos Law on Health Care established a framework for organizing, managing and developing healthcare in Laos. The law, passed in 2005, aims to provide equitable healthcare services to all communities. The legislation also focused on developing modern healthcare services over the long-term to protect and develop the nation. Outlining both public and private healthcare services, the 2005 Law on Health Care is crucial in the country’s development. The public option only covers around 20% of the current population. However, the Ministry of Health in Laos hopes to have universal coverage by 2025.
  4. The National Nutrition Policy (2008) has the general objective of reducing malnutrition levels throughout the country. It emphasizes nutrition as a key factor of concern in the National Growth and Poverty Eradication Strategy. Though the policy targets all citizens of Laos, the policy specifically focuses on malnourished citizens and the Non-Lao Tai ethnic group. Through principles of decentralization, sustainability and nutrition surveillance, the policy has helped reduce stunting from 40% of the population in 2006 to 28% in 2020.
  5. Though the country’s healthcare system is rapidly developing, the coronavirus pandemic posed a great threat to the safety of the populace. Securing funding from the World Bank to respond to the pandemic, Laos sought to target emergency preparedness pursuits such as contact tracing and infection prevention. The country was able to declare itself free of the virus in early June 2020 after 59 days with no new cases and all remaining cases recovered. The Laos government built a strong infrastructure, consequently, even remote locations have access to it.

At all levels, governments around the world are developing policies to improve healthcare in their countries. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted glaring issues in healthcare infrastructure worldwide. Additionally, Laos is a prime example of a country taking concrete steps to respond to the issue.

Pratik Koppikar
Photo: Flickr

Laos' Growing Economy
Laos is growing rapidly thanks to high economic growth since the early 2000s. Its GDP growth rate has hovered around 7 percent since 2000, which makes Laos one of the fastest-growing countries in Asia. The infrastructure and tourism sectors have developed at a fast rate since 2017, which makes poverty reduction a possible side effect. As an economy grows, poverty tends to decline. Poverty in Laos was 46 percent in 1996 and around 23 percent in 2015. This cut in the poverty rate is partially due to Laos’ growing economy. Key sectors such as agriculture, tourism and infrastructure continue to be strong focus areas in Laos’ development.

A Commercialized Agriculture Industry

Agriculture remains important to Laos’ growing economy. About 70 percent of all workers have employment in the agriculture sector. Although the service sector is growing while agriculture is declining, the agriculture industry remains an important contributor to its GDP and the main source of employment for many Laotians. Most of the cultivated land consists of rice, and, as is common in developing countries, the main type of work is subsistence farming. There is a shift toward commercializing the agriculture industry, though, and this emphasis remains important in increasing wages and pulling more Laotians out of poverty. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s Agricultural Development Strategy 2011-2020 outlines the goals in increasing productivity and transitioning the industry toward commercialization.

Rural Infrastructure Growth

Infrastructure, which includes bridges, roads, schools and hospitals, remains an important foundation to a country’s livelihood. Without the necessities, a country may have difficulty helping its people and increasing its development and trade. Laos’ infrastructure is developing at a fast rate. Infrastructure growth remained around 8 percent for 2017, 2018 and 2019. While infrastructure is growing, there are still issues in rural areas that people tend to overlook. Electrification is about 80 percent in rural areas, though the country could resolve this in the future. The challenge to electrifying rural areas relies on navigating the rough and mountainous terrain of Laos. While Laos is growing rapidly, a higher emphasis on rural infrastructure development could help pull more Laotians out of poverty.

The Rising Tourism Industry

The tourism industry in Laos has grown fast since the 1990s. In 1995, about 350,000 international tourists visited Laos, yet that number grew to more than 4 million in 2018. Tourism contributes almost $2 billion to its GDP, so Laos has big stakes in the industry for its current and future economic well-being. China and neighboring countries, such as Thailand and Vietnam, comprise most of the tourists visiting Laos.

The tourism industry is yet another reason why Laos is growing rapidly. More than 100,000 jobs are related to tourism, and many expect that number to grow to 121,000 by 2028. The tourism industry grew by 9 percent in 2019, and Laos’ goal for 2020 is to reach 5 million international visitors. Job growth and GDP growth are two major effects of the rise of tourism in Laos, but there is also the effect tourism has on infrastructure. Hotels, resorts, entertainment venues and parks receive revenue and expand thanks to tourism growth.

Future for Laos’ Growing Economy

Laos’ high economic development could simultaneously transform its economy and continue to reduce its poverty. Poverty in Lao reduced by half while it was developing its economy since the 1990s. Thanks to its key sector developments, Laos is growing rapidly and poverty is continuing to decline. Rapid economic growth since 2000 shows that it may become a developed country in the near future, even though it is one of the least developed countries in the world currently. According to the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council and due to meeting two of the three criteria for development, Laos will leave the Least Developed Countries list by 2024.

Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr

Health Care Facts about LaosLaos is a small, South Asian country that recently experienced a significant increase in its gross domestic product (GDP). Poverty in Laos plummeted from 33.5 percent to 23.2 percent allowing the country to meet the Millennium Development Goal by reducing its extreme poverty rate by half. However, there is still much work to be done. Around 80 percent of Laotians live on less than $3 a day and face a 10 percent chance of falling into poverty. Knowing that poverty and poor health care often co-exist, the government has made it a goal to strengthen its national health care system by achieving universal health coverage by 2020. Below are nine health care facts about Laos.

9 Health Care Facts About Laos

  1. The Food and Drug Department is the regulatory authority for health care in Laos. The body is responsible for regulating pharmaceuticals and medical devices. The most recent legislation the country passed is the “Law on Drugs and Medical Products No. 07/NA,” in 2012. The law provided stricter guidelines for drugs and medical products. It also creates a classification for medical devices and registration for drugs and other medical products.
  2. Between 1997 and 2015 Laos’ poverty rate declined from 40 percent to 23 percent. The improvement in life expectancy is likely due to the recent improvements of the government on health care in Laos. For example, in 2011 Laos’ National Government Assembly decided to increase the government expenditure for health from 4 percent to 9 percent, likely influencing poverty rates.
  3. Laos has separate health care programs for different income groups. The country has the State Authority for Social Security (SASS) for civil servants, the Social Security Office (SSO) for employees of the state and private companies, the Community-based Health Insurance (CBHI) for informal-sector workers and the Health Equity Funds (HEFs) for the country’s poor.
  4. Laos’ current health insurance only covers 20 percent of the population. The lack of coverage could be due to the large spread of the country’s population outside of its major urban centers. Around 80 percent of Laos’ populace live and work in rural communities. The country’s ministry of health has made efforts to provide more services to people who live outside the main urban centers by decentralizing health care into three administrative levels: the central Ministry of Health, provincial administration levels and a district-level administration.
  5. Wealthy Laotians in need of medical care travel to Thailand for treatment. Despite the increased cost of care in Thailand, Laotians travel internationally because of the better quality of care. Health care in Laos at the local levels suffers from unqualified staff and inadequate infrastructure; additionally, inadequate drug supply is a problem. Due to these issues, Laos depends on international aid. In fact, donors and grant funding finance most of the disease control, investment, training and administrative costs.
  6. Many Laotian citizens believe illness is caused by imbalances of spirit, spiritual possession and weather. Despite Laotian spirituality, knowledge of germs as the root cause of the disease is well understood. Laotian hospitals use antibiotics and other medications when they are available. However, folk medicine is often used as a treatment. For example, herbal medicines and spiritual cures include items, such as a special tree bark, which is believed to grant long life when it is prepared with rice.
  7. Many Laotians remain malnourished. Despite recent economic growth, many children under 5 are chronically malnourished; every fifth child in rural areas is severely stunted. Malnutrition is largely influenced by natural disasters. Laos has a weak infrastructure making it difficult to cope with floods, droughts and insect swarms.
  8. Local drug shops as a primary source of medicinal remedies are actually causing problems. Most of these shops are unregulated and the owners are unlicensed. Misprescription and inadequate and overdosage are common. Venders sell small packets of drugs that often include an antibiotic, vitamins and a fever suppressant. They sell these packets as single dose cures for a wide variety of illnesses.
  9. Laos has a high risk of infectious water-borne and vector-borne diseases. Common waterborne diseases include protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A and typhoid. Vector-borne diseases include dengue fever and malaria. Typically, diarrheal disease outbreaks occur annually during the beginning of the rainy season when the water becomes contaminated by human and animal waste on hillsides. Few homes have squat-pits or water-sealed toilets, causing sanitation and health issues.

 

As it stands, health care in Laos is still underdeveloped. However, the nation’s recent economic growth provides an opportunity to remedy the problem even though a majority of the current health care system is funded by foreign sources. As with all struggles, the desired outcome will take time. With enough cooperation with other countries and non-profit organizations, Laos has a chance to create a sustainable health care system for its citizens. Increasing health education among Laotians will be one key to improving public health in Laos. This can be done through the help of nonprofit organizations and others aiding in efforts to educate countries on sanitation and health.

– Robert Forsyth
Photo: Flickr

 

countries that have eliminated trachoma

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) affect more than 1.4 billion people in 149 countries. These diseases flourish in areas of the world where there is a lack of basic sanitation, which means that the global poor have the highest risk of contracting them. These diseases are preventable and treatable, but due to a lack of resources and aid, millions of people still suffer from these diseases that can cause them to be disfigured, disabled and may even result in death.

However, with the help of several different organizations and national campaigns, many countries have successfully eliminated some NTDs, including trachoma, which is the leading cause of blindness in the world. Trachoma is a bacterial eye infection that affects the eyes and eyelids, causing the eyelashes to turn inward toward the eye leaving patients blind.

Here are three countries that have eliminated trachoma.

3 Countries That Have Eliminated Trachoma

  • Ghana – In 2018, Ghana became the first country in West Africa to eliminate blinding trachoma. Three groups were instrumental in this effort: FHI 360 – a nonprofit human development organization; END in Africa Project (financed by USAID) and Ghana Health Service’s NTD program. Working together, the three organizations eliminated blinding trachoma over an eight-year period. From 2010 to 2018, the END in Africa Project supported the global distribution of more than 464 million NTD Program treatments for trachoma and other diseases. They also mapped disease distribution, treated at-risk populations and monitored treatment impact while also documenting successes along the road to eliminating this terrible disease. FHI 360 provided technical and financial assistance for trachoma post-treatment surveillance, which will help with further prevention of the disease. The program’s long surveillance and treatment of patients is a testament to its dedication and commitment to ending NTDs.
  • Laos – In 2017, Laos became the fifth endemic country in the world to eliminate blinding trachoma as a public health problem. Blinding trachoma was especially common among young children. The United States government had been supporting Laos since 2012 through several USAID projects, such as END in Asia and ENVISION. These projects assisted the Ministry of Health in collecting reliable data on the status of trachoma, which helped determine the correct approach to eradicate the disease. Laos was able to place ophthalmologists at national, provincial and district levels to detect and operate on cases of patients with the disease. The projects also trained primary health care workers to screen patients for trachoma, and they gave patients with less severe conditions the antibiotic eye treatments they needed. Nongovernmental organizations also helped train health volunteers in villages on ways to prevent trachoma. Education ministries invited volunteers to come to their schools and educate their students on facial cleanliness and showed how the infection spread from person to person. Laos achieved amazing success with its partners, working to not only diagnose and treat the disease but also to educate people on how to prevent trachoma.
  • Mexico – Mexico became the first country in the Americas and the third country in the world to officially eliminate trachoma in April 2017. In 2004, the Secretary of Health of the state of Chiapas formed a group of health professionals called Trachoma Brigades to implement SAFE, the strategy recommended by the World Health Organization to eliminate the disease. In their fight against this disease, Mexico provided surgery for people at imminent risk of blindness, administered antibiotics in affected communities to reduce infection in children as well as to stop transmission, promoted personal hygiene and improved environmental conditions. The SAFE strategy’s 4 interventions have been especially successful in the state of Chiapas. Trachoma was endemic in 246 communities in the state and affected over 146,000 citizens. Trachoma Brigades, alongside national, state and community efforts and international partners, eradicated this disease. Trachoma Brigades visited communities several times a year to conduct surveys, eye examinations, identify cases, administer antibiotics, educate children about proper hygiene and perform surgeries.

These three countries worked for years to eradicate this trachoma and improve their citizens’ quality of life. The combined efforts of multiple organizations and governments brought medication, surgeries and public education to these countries toward achieving this goal. In addition to Ghana, Laos and Mexico, countries such as Cambodia, Togo, The Marshall Islands, Oman and Morocco have also made progress against this disease.

It is a U.S. foreign policy objective to support the treatment, control and elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). The World Health Organization recognizes 17 NTDs which currently afflict 1.4 billion people around the globe. Urge Congress to support the End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act to advance U.S. foreign policy interests and safeguard national security.

Email Congress to End NTDs

Jannette Aguirre
Photo: WHO

10 Facts About Human Trafficking in Laos
Laos is one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world and the poorest in its region. Poverty and low levels of education leave its residents vulnerable to diverse sorts of crime and one of the largest crimes the country faces is human trafficking. Here are 10 facts about human trafficking in Laos.

10 Facts About Human Trafficking in Laos

  1. Human Trafficking Numbers: Between 200,000 and 450,000 people in Laos fall victim to human trafficking each year. Labor migration within Laos’s geographical region has a link to trafficking as many natives leave in search of better employment opportunities.
  2. The Vulnerability of Girls: Girls aged 12 to 18 make up about 90 percent of trafficking victims each year. These young Lao women must drop out of school to make a living to sustain their families. The girls then willingly seek employment opportunities abroad.
  3. Migration to Thailand: The majority of human trafficking from Laos occurs when its people choose to move to Thailand. One of the reasons that Thailand is a destination is that it is close and shares a similar culture and language. Moreover, people in Laos tend to move to Thailand due to its higher economic standing. Since education levels in Laos are particularly low, its people often seek better lives and are naïve and vulnerable to criminals who trick and cheat them.
  4. Sex Trafficking and Forced Labor: The commercial sex trade and forced labor situations are the two most common types of human trafficking that Laotians face. Since young females are the main people migrating from Laos, traffickers often take them to countries like China to sell them as brides. Others receive false promises of high paying jobs but end up trapped in slave work.
  5. A Tier 3 Rank: These conditions have manifested due to the Laos government’s failure to meet the minimum standards to end human trafficking. In 2018, the U.S. downgraded Laos to a Tier 3 in terms of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). Tier 3 is the worst rating a country can have.
  6. UN-ACT and Ending Human Trafficking in Laos: Human trafficking remains one of Laos’s most significant struggles, but positive headway has been developing over the years. Laos’s government has started to tighten its border security. The police force is now receiving training from organizations like the United Nations Action for Cooperation Against Trafficking in Persons (UN-ACT). UN-ACT has implemented the three P’s protocol including prevention, protection and prosecution, to deter human trafficking in Laos.
  7. Raising Awareness: Not only is awareness spreading through law enforcement, but it is reaching civilians too. Officials have launched campaigns to spread information about human trafficking at border crossings. This initiative educates individuals on what to look out for and how to avoid potentially dangerous situations while traveling.
  8. The Lotus Project: While the government has started to do its part, other private organizations have lent Laos efforts too. The Lotus Project, founded in 2008, has a mission to support and provide young Loa women with education. Since the Lotus Project’s start, it has been able to impact 80 families and keep those girls from falling victim to human trafficking.
  9. Lao Women’s Union: Lao Women’s Union is the country’s largest support association. Not only does it focus on trafficking victims, but also on domestic violence victims. To serve the women of Laos, the LWU is an active advocator for women’s rights and their ability to prosecute traffickers.
  10. Village Focus International (VFI): In Laos, there are three shelters for trafficking survivors and two of them are a result of Village Focus International. At the shelters that VFI established, girls receive safe accommodations, food, health care and emotional support to repower themselves. VFI has been able to aid over 500 lives over the years and is helping make Laos a safer country for its residents.

The people of Laos, and especially the young women who live there, face great dangers when seeking employment opportunities abroad. As expressed in these 10 facts about human trafficking in Laos, however, the country is making positive strides. Thanks to recent government efforts and groups like LWU, The Lotus Project and VFI, more Laotians are able to avoid those hardships or receive rescue.

– Ariana Kiessling
Photo: Flickr

 

BubzBeauty Helps Build Schools
Pencils of Promise is a nonprofit organization that emerged in 2008. Since then, it has built 512 schools in Ghana, Guatemala and Laos, and has helped 102,215 children obtain a quality education in those countries. Not only does the organization raise money for schools, but it also has programs to help support teachers working at and students attending these schools. Through Pencils of Promise, YouTuber BubzBeauty helps build schools in its three countries of interest.

BubzBeauty’s Involvement with Pencils of Promise

On August 8, 2015, Lindy “Bubz” Tsang announced her first campaign with Pencils of Promise to raise $50,000 to build two schools in Laos. She felt compelled to use her YouTube platform and large following to help children in poverty obtain an education and better their lives. For this first fundraiser, Bubz designed a sweatshirt for her subscribers to purchase; 100 percent of all proceeds went toward the school fund.

It was a huge success, and on January 18, 2016, Bubz released a vlog of her visit to one of the two schools, named Beauty of Knowledge. The name was a tribute to her beauty channel on YouTube, since it and its subscribers were what made the building of the school possible. As Bubz says in her vlog, “beauty doesn’t have to be just about makeup and skincare. Beauty is also knowledge.”

Building Schools in Laos and Ghana

Before the building of the new schools, the kids in Tad Thong, Laos went to school in a temporary classroom structure made from bamboo with a makeshift roof. There was no way for it to support all the children coming to attend, so the school held six grades in only three classrooms. In Saen Oudom, Laos, children also attended school in extremely poor conditions, with the building having a leaky roof and many safety hazards. Thanks to Bubz, both towns have a safe space for the kids’ education to continue and thrive. Tad Thong now has a five-classroom school and Saen Oudom a three-classroom school.

Since then, Bubz has raised money to build a total of five schools, ultimately impacting a total of 3,469 children around the world. Bubz and her beauty community have helped construct two schools in Laos and three in Ghana. The Ghana fundraiser gained monetary aid from another shirt design with all profits going toward the campaign. Additionally, Bubz created an eye shadow palette where $2 from each one sold went toward the fund. Here is a list of the three areas Bubz has helped:

  • Atravenu, Ghana: Four grades were sharing two classrooms in a chapel. This proved to be a distracting environment for both teachers and students, hindering the education process.

  • Kpando Torkor, Ghana: The school building had unfinished classrooms. The first and second graders were in the most unsafe rooms and the 91 students attending caused overcrowding, a safety hazard.

  • Mafi Agorve, Ghana: Children were attending school in makeshift structures that did not include windows or doors. This exposed them to harsh sunlight throughout the day and outdoor distractions.

With Bubz’s help, all three towns were able to build a three-unit class structure, and Kpando Torkor was also able to renovate its already existing classrooms.

Plans for the Future

In the description of her most recent update video on the schools (May 10, 2019), Bubz wrote, “When we build schools, we’re not just building a physical structure, we also build up a child’s confidence, dreams and goals. We build up communities’ potential and standard of life.” Bubz’s campaigns through BubzBeauty not only helps build schools but also helps the communities surrounding those schools flourish more than they would have without her help. Education leads to a better life for these children and brighter futures for the countries.

Even present day, BubzBeauty helps build schools with Pencils of Promise. In May 2019, she announced that profits from her formulated lipstick would go toward a fund to raise money to build a school in Guatemala.

“Not all superheroes wear capes. Some wear lipstick.” — Lindy Tsang

– Jordan Miller
Photo: Flickr

Scavenger Hunt for a Cause
The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt, or GISH, is a scavenger hunt for a cause and one that can boast that it actually is the greatest international scavenger hunt — it has received a Guinness World Record for the largest media scavenger hunt in the world. “Supernatural” actor Misha Collins founded GISH in 2011, and it is a scavenger hunt for a cause that has seen over 55,000 participants from over 69 countries since its inaugural year. GISH effectively mobilizes its thousands of participants toward charitable causes, often by making charitable donations a task in the annual hunt. On such a large scale, GISH has made an impact on causes including refugee settlement and farmland donations in Africa.

What is GISH?

Formally known as GISHWHES, GISH is a scavenger hunt for a cause and a viral online media event that takes place over one week every year. Participants must pay a $25 sign-up fee and teams must consist of 15 people, either personally chosen or randomly assigned. The organization sends out the scavenger hunt list via email as well as the GISH app, and the goal is to complete as many tasks as possible by the end of the week.

Some previous tasks from 2019 included hosting Stormtrooper X Games and providing photos, finding an actual spacesuit and putting a GISH patch next to the national flag. Additionally, some tasks were to create a brochure for a Mars tourist company, plant and maintain trees and help residents of a local nursing home “escape” by throwing a summer party and asking about their favorite memories.

How Does GISH Help?

Through various GISH tasks over the last few years, participants have cleaned thousands of beaches, more than 2,000 participants have donated blood, more than 800 have registered as bone marrow donors, more than 3,000 have volunteered for food pantries and volunteers have donated more than $700,000 to charity. In 2011, GISH raised money to build an orphanage and care center for the orphans of the Haiti earthquake of 2010. In 2016, participants raised enough funds for four refugee families from Syria to move out of a refugee camp and into a stable housing environment. In 2018, GISH participants helped to provide over 250 acres of farmland and resources to women in Rwanda to rebuild their lives and provide them with the opportunity of financial freedom. In 2019, scavenger hunt teams raised funds to help refugees at the U.S./Mexico border and raised more than $240,000 to help families in Laos. These are just a few of the impacts that GISH has had in the last eight years.

Random Acts: A Partner Charity

Random Acts, a charity also founded by Misha Collins, is an organization dedicated to finding new ways to bring random acts of kindness into the world. Similar to GISH, it has an annual event called AMOK (annual melee of kindness), where participants perform various acts of kindness to make their community a better place, including fundraising and mobilizing.

It also hosts Endurance 4 Kindness, which is a global event that allows participants to push themselves and raise money for a good cause. Random Acts has helped fund campaigns like Hope to Haiti and Dreams 2 Acts: Nicaragua as well. GISH has partnered with Random Acts in the past to save a South African dance school in 2017 and to help build an orphanage in Haiti in 2011.

How to Participate

To participate in GISH, find a team (or opt for random placement), sign up through their website, pay the $25 participation fee and wait to receive the list! Prepare to be uncomfortable and awkward, but be ready for a good time. Overall, keep in mind that although seemingly lighthearted and just for fun, many of the tasks aim to make a real difference, both in local communities and globally.

GISH is a scavenger hunt for a cause and has been going strong for the past eight years, constantly breaking Guinness Records and gaining more participants as it grows. It emerged as a call to action in response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2011 and has since helped people all over the world. From refugees in Syria and Lebanon in 2016 to women in Rwanda in 2017 to families in Laos this year, GISH has made impacts all over the world. GISH is the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt for a great international cause and each year continues to see more participants helping to change the world. Over the next few years, participants will help thousands of people and donate thousands of dollars for various charities, expanding an already record-setting scavenger hunt for a cause.

Jessica Winarski
Photo: Flickr